Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
The Snapshot: Karl Urban plays an ex-CIA-operative-turned-vigilante obsessed with taking down an evil superhero empire in the superb Amazon series, The Boys. (Season two premiered September 4th, 2020.)
The Performer: Karl Urban
The Series: The Boys
If you watched season one of The Boys, you know superheroes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The “bad guys” are actually good and the superheroes (aka “supes”) are flawed human beings who come off more like pampered A-list celebs than a Super Friends-style Justice League.
But like everything else in good drama, not everything is black and white, and that’s where Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) thrives — in the gray area with a ferocious and rare brand of machismo. Butcher is an ex-Special Forces agent, hell-bent on avenging things that happened to his wife Becca (Shantel VanSanten) eight years ago at the hands of lead superhero and diabolical d-bag Homelander (Antony Starr). To say there’s hate there would be an understatement for all time.
Butcher spent season one trying to sink Homelander and his superhero corporation, Vought International, with his team of talented misfits. The Boys, as they’re known, include Hughie (Jack Quaid), the everyman of the series who spent a decent chunk of season one covered in blood — in addition to Frenchie (Tomer Kapon), Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), and their new super-terrorist friend, The Female (Karen Fukuhara).
Together, with Butcher as their ruthless leader, they’re once again intent on taking down this corrupt batch of super frenemies. But, in season two, this clandestine unit becomes America’s “Most Wanted” as they get closer to completing their mission of disrupting the superhero status quo. This is due in part to strategic relationships with sexy supe Starlight (Erin Moriarty) and CIA connections that keep their mission on track — that is, until they have to contend with new nihilistic feminist superhero Stormfront (Aya Cash), who has a different master plan.
Throughout it all, Butcher’s grit and bravado take the tough guy thing to a new level, but season two also lends a softer side to the Butcher character. Urban meets the challenge by adding new heartfelt dimensions to Butcher’s world, which includes reuniting with his wife and his hated father, and pondering the idea of becoming a father at a time when the fate of the world is in serious peril.
Urban gives it all to a character who stops at nothing to achieve his goals. There’s no better indication of that drive than episode three (in season two) when he literally torpedoes a speed boat straight into the belly of a beached whale in attempts to off a supe in a gutsy maneuver.
Ultimately, Urban kicks butt as the foul-mouthed Englishman who uses his charm masterfully to rally The Boys, delivering infinitely quotable lines and no scarcity of “c” words — as he creates an irreverent and irrevocably badass character that will go down as one of the all-time greats.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, the 47-year-old actor reportedly got his start at age eight when he had a line in a TV series. He then went on hiatus until after high school, when he landed a role on a Kiwi soap opera called Shortland Street (1992), the same year he enrolled in college.
After a year at Victoria University, Urban left to pursue acting full-time. That’s when he landed several theater roles around Wellington before moving to Auckland, where he starred in various TV shows and films while continuing his training and theater work around Asia and Australia.
It wasn’t long before Urban got his film debut in Heaven (1998) before garnering a couple of Best Actor noms at the New Zealand Film Awards for Via Satellite (1998) and the indie The Price of Milk (2000). He also won Best Supporting Actor at the Qantas Film Awards for Out of the Blue (2006).
But where you no doubt know Urban from is his work in bigger Hollywood films. Notably, he played Éomer in the second and third films of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in Star Trek (2009), William Cooper in RED (2011) and amongst others, Judge Dredd in Dredd (2012), which incidentally was a comic book Urban was a fan of as a teenager.
Urban also recurred on Xena: Warrior Princess, where he shuttled between the roles of Julius Caesar and Cupid from 1997 to 2001. In an interesting twist to his career arc, Urban also has the distinction of starring in the second installment in each of three huge film franchises: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), a tidbit I probably would’ve never pieced together without the trusty trivia section on IMDb.
Until the world gets a third season of The Boys, which will be a while, Urban is rumored to be slated to reprise his role as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the next Star Trek sequel. This would be Urban’s fourth appearance in the franchise, which seems to be on the back burner for now.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.